Lenten Devotions from the Iowa Annual Conference

Lenten Devotions from the Iowa Annual Conference

March 20, 2019


March 24, 2019

All of you who are thirsty, come to the water!
Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat!
Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk!
Why spend money for what isn’t food,
    and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy?
Listen carefully to me and eat what is good;
    enjoy the richest of feasts.
Listen and come to me;
    listen, and you will live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful loyalty to David.
Look, I made him a witness to the peoples,
    a prince and commander of peoples.
Look, you will call a nation you don’t know,
    a nation you don’t know will run to you
    because of the Lord your God,
    the holy one of Israel, who has glorified you.

Seek the Lord when he can still be found;
    call him while he is yet near.
Let the wicked abandon their ways
    and the sinful their schemes.
Let them return to the Lord so that he may have mercy on them,
    to our God, because he is generous with forgiveness.
My plans aren’t your plans,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways,
    and my plans than your plans.

—Isaiah 55:1-9

So here we are a little way into Lent. Do you remember what you planned to do, to mark this season? 

I serve at Women at the Well, a church inside the Iowa women's prison. Every year on Ash Wednesday, dozens of women stream to me to receive a smudge of ash on their foreheads. We’ll talk about Lent, and how they’ll make this time holy. Many of my sisters will express their plan to stop swearing, gossiping, or lying. Or they’ll take on a new practice around prayer, care, or connection.

But by about this point, just three weeks in to Lent, many of them—and we outside, too—have moved on! We’ve sprung forward since then, and celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. March Madness is in full swing, and perhaps spring break. “Lent?” we might say, looking blank. 

So, when Isaiah invites us to come and receive what God has for us, we might not hear it right away. “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters,” he says. We might picture other people, needy people, streaming to God’s plenty. 

But didn’t we know we were among those thirsty, on that recent day that was marked by ashes and intentions? 

Lent situates us—all of us—among the thirsty, day after day and week after week. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,” Isaiah goes on, “and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Lent knows us, and invites us back to the goodness and richness that God holds out to us, “without money and without price.” 

So, here in mid-Lent, it’s not too late to decide again how we will keep this season—and our whole life—holy.


Prayer: 

Holy God, draw me close again, that I might know the holiness of Lent, and holiness of life. Renew my awareness of my thirst and hunger that only you can satisfy. I love you, Lord. Amen.


By: Pastor Less Schott, Women at the Well


March 23, 2019

What more was there to do for my vineyard
    that I haven’t done for it?
When I expected it to grow good grapes,
    why did it grow rotten grapes?

—Isaiah 5:4

A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit,
nor does a bad tree produce good fruit.

—Luke 6:43

At the backyard of a house where my family and I once lived, there was a tree which used to produce red delicious apples. During a certain time of the year, we all looked forward to harvesting those apples and consume them after proper cleansing. In a particular year, the apples were ripe for harvest as usual. Sadly, that same year, virtually all the apples had been been taken over by ants, roaches, and maggots. Anyone in my shoes would have also felt disappointed. What went wrong? Not enough moisture? Did the tree lack sufficient care? Did an intruder mess with the tree while we were gone? Did we take something for granted? These questions came to my mind as I tried to figure out possible causes and solutions to the issue.

Jesus taught us that no good tree produces bad fruits. However, our Savior also taught us that while men slept, the enemy came to sow weeds among the wheat (Mt.13:24-33). In Genesis 1:31, we are reminded that every creature (including human beings) were created good. Accordingly, we are expected to yield good fruits because we were created good. Unfortunately, through our negligence and spiritual laxity, the enemy came to turn the plan of God for us around. Good trees now started to produce bad fruits. As we trust him during this 40-day period of self-denial, Christ will remove every bad fruit in our lives. Rather than producing bad fruits which are inconsistent with God's plans for us, we will begin to produce the fruits of the spirit—which include love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal.5:22-23).


Prayer: 

Dear Lord, as we humble ourselves during this season of self-denial, we ask that you will graciously remove every appearance of bad fruits in our lives. Enable us to bear good fruits consistent with your plans for us, through Christ our Lord and Savior, Amen!


By: Rev. Michael Adedokun, Hampton UMC, Hampton, Iowa


March 22, 2019

God! My God! It’s you—
    I search for you!
    My whole being thirsts for you!
    My body desires you
        in a dry and tired land,
        no water anywhere.
Yes, I’ve seen you in the sanctuary;
    I’ve seen your power and glory.
My lips praise you
    because your faithful love
    is better than life itself!
So I will bless you as long as I’m alive;
    I will lift up my hands in your name.

I’m fully satisfied—
    as with a rich dinner.
My mouth speaks praise with joy on my lips—
    whenever I ponder you on my bed,
    whenever I meditate on you
        in the middle of the night—
    because you’ve been a help to me and I shout for joy in the protection of your wings.
My whole being clings to you;
    your strong hand upholds me.

—Psalm 63:1-8

When I first started to ride my bicycle as an adult, I decided that it would be a great idea to ride in a charity event. I chose a 56-mile ride around Carroll County. I had never ridden anywhere close to that distance before.

I started well. The first 20 miles were fairly easy. This was good because that was about my limit so far. Even the next 20 miles were good. I was doing all the things that I read about. I was taking on fluids. I was eating at the support stops. I was riding with someone.

Then, I got confident. Only 16 miles left. No problem.

My bottles became empty and I didn't bother to fill them up. No need!
The problem with dehydration is that once it happens, it is too late. You have to drink water before it's too late. If you don't, you can become disoriented, spent, and defeated.

I finished that ride...barely. And I paid for it the rest of the day and into the next with a lingering headache. My muscles ached. My everything ached.  

The same is true of our relationship with God. The psalmist reminds us to stay hydrated. Drink in God. Drink before you know you need it. Drink in God today. When we don't remember to stay hydrated with the Living Water, then we will ache with a longing that we really can't place. And it happens while we aren't paying attention. We may be going along fine one day, and the next feels completely off. We feel like we can't take another step. We feel like life is not worth living.

Even if we find God in those moments, it takes a while to get filled back up.  It takes a while to replenish those stores of Living Water that we can't live without.

Today, remember to drink in the Living Water and stay fully satisfied so that you can go the full distance.


Prayer: 

Sustaining God, fill me with Living Water until I am satisfied.  Help me to stay hydrated so I can go the full distance with You.


By: Rev. Chad Jennings, St. Luke UMC, Newton, Iowa


March 21, 2019

Nebuchadnezzar declared: “May the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be praised! He sent his messenger to rescue his servants who trusted him. They ignored the king’s order, sacrificing their bodies, because they wouldn’t serve or worship any god but their God. I now issue a decree to every people, nation, and language: whoever speaks disrespectfully about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s God will be torn limb from limb and their house made a trash heap, because there is no other god who can rescue like this.”

Then the king made Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego prosperous in the province of Babylon.

—Daniel 3:28-30 

What a wonderful abiding by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!

Nebuchadnezzar threatened to take their lives with an inferno death, because they had refused to worship this golden statue. Whether or not knowing that God was going to spare their lives, that they put no other gods before the one, true God.

But what about the rest of us? Do we keep the First Commandment? Somedays it is a challenge for us all! Plus, our lives are not threatened by death.

We need to be serving the god of social acceptance, when we shy away from topics like marriage and abortion that come up around our places of work. When we are going on our family vacations or time away doesn’t include going to a Sunday morning service at the local church. Maybe for our lack of service, maybe we need to be thrown into the fiery furnace. But as luck would have it, God will come to our rescue.  

He saves through His one and only Son. Because of Jesus, God doesn’t see our worship of false gods. What He does see is the perfect service of His Son that led Him to the cross. Driven by nails from hands to feet, Jesus did the suffering for us that we deserve. Through faith in the saving work of this sacrifice, we are to be children of God. And as His children, we now perfectly serve and worship none other than our Heavenly Father. Bless Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!


Prayer:

Gracious Lord, Your Son protected faithful Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. Grant us protection in our time of testing that we would boldly confess Your name, reject all false worship, and live and die in confidence, knowing that we are safe in Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. 


By: Pastor Brian Cushman, Mackey & Marion St. UMC, Boone, Iowa



March 20, 2019

Some time later, the Moabites and the Ammonites, along with some of the Meunites, attacked Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was told, “A large army from beyond the sea, from Edom, is coming to attack you. They are already at Hazazon-tamar!” (that is, En-gedi). Frightened, Jehoshaphat decided to seek the Lord’s help and proclaimed a fast for all Judah. People from all of Judah’s cities came to ask the Lord for help. Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem in the Lord’s temple in front of the new courtyard. “Lord, the God of our ancestors, you alone are God in heaven. You rule all the kingdoms of the nations. You are so powerful that no one can oppose you. You, our God, drove out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and gave this land to the descendants of your friend Abraham forever. They have lived in it and have built a sanctuary in honor of your name in it, saying, ‘If calamity, sword, flood, plague, or famine comes upon us, we will stand before this temple, before you, because your name is in this temple. We will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’ So look here! The Ammonites, the Moabites, and those from Mount Seir—the people you wouldn’t let Israel invade when they came out of Egypt’s land, so Israel avoided them and didn’t destroy them— here they are, returning the favor by coming to drive us out of your possession that you gave to us! Our God, won’t you punish them? We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We don’t know what to do, and so we are looking to you for help.”

All Judah was standing before the Lord, even their little ones, wives, and children. Then the Lord’s spirit came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah son of Benaiah son of Jeiel son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the line of Asaph, as he stood in the middle of the assembly.

“Pay attention, all of Judah, every inhabitant of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat,” Jahaziel said. “This is what the Lord says to you: Don’t be afraid or discouraged by this great army because the battle isn’t yours. It belongs to God! March out against them tomorrow. Since they will be coming through the Ziz pass, meet them at the end of the valley that opens into the Jeruel wilderness. You don’t need to fight this battle. Just take your places, stand ready, and watch how the Lord, who is with you, will deliver you, Judah and Jerusalem. Don’t be afraid or discouraged! Go out tomorrow and face them. The Lord will be with you.”

Then Jehoshaphat bowed down with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the Lord in worship. Levites from the lines of Kohath and Korah stood up to loudly praise the Lord, the God of Israel.

Early the next morning they went into the Tekoa wilderness. When they were about to go out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and every inhabitant of Jerusalem! Trust the Lord your God, and you will stand firm; trust his prophets and succeed!”

After consulting with the people, Jehoshaphat appointed musicians to play for the Lord, praising his majestic holiness. They were to march out before the warriors, saying, “Give thanks to the Lord because his faithful love lasts forever!” As they broke into joyful song and praise, the Lord launched a surprise attack against the Ammonites, the Moabites, and those from Mount Seir who were invading Judah, so that they were defeated.

1 Chronicles 20: 1-22

All the tribe of Judah stands before the Lord, specifically with their “little ones, their wives and their children.” And they are told to stand up in front of a great army without defense trusting God to fight the battle for them.

I don’t know about you but this would be a pretty tough pill to swallow.  I might be brave enough to stand before an army out of faith, but to take my four kids and put them beside me? Honestly I would really struggle to be faithful to that call. Yet parents are called to put their kids out into a dangerous world every day.

One in three black men (mostly under age of 25) will be imprisoned and most of those first offenses will be minor ones for which white young men would get probation. I have three black young sons — 26, 16 & 15. When I take time to think about it, sending my sons into the world feels a lot like putting my kids into battle with only the Lord to fight for them.

As each started driving, I especially started to grow in my faith and prayer life. Active shooter drills are now common place in schools across Iowa. My kids talked about one drill at dinner telling me how they were taught to throw books at an active shooter.

“...do not fear or be dismayed, tomorrow go out against them and the Lord will be with you.” (v. 17).

Some days it feels like sending our kids to school is sending them into a battle. Yet we are assured that we can believe in the Lord our God.

We are ordered to give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever. Our weapons are not spears or swords (or guns) but faith in a loving God and establishing a society in which these weapons are unneeded.  Lord, give us faith!


Prayer:

Lord God we thank you, for your steadfast love does endure forever.  Help us to place our children into your hands with faith and trust each and every day.  Help us to establish your Kingdom such that every child is safe and every young person valued.  AMEN


By: Rev. Sarah Rohret, First UMC, Indepence, Iowa


March 19, 2019

"Please forgive the wrongs of these people because of your
absolute loyalty, just as you’ve forgiven these people
from their time in Egypt until now."
—Numbers14:19 (CEB).

In this passage God has led Israel out of Egypt, defeated the most powerful army of that day, and brought them to the land God had promised Abraham. But they refuse to go in. They have sent in people to scope out the land and they have reported back. The majority report is the land is fruitful, but filled with walled cities and …Giants. Immediately the people begin to complain and threaten to head back to Egypt, back to slavery. They come to the threshold of God’s promise and want to head the other way, back the way they had come.

And God gets angry. So angry God threatens to destroy them all.

But Moses pleads with God on their behalf. He asked God, “What will all the Egyptians think?” But in the end Moses pleads to God’s nature. He seems to remind God who God is. It’s true, Israel does not yet know who they are, but surely, God, you know who you are? Forgive them because of your loyalty, your faithfulness. And God does. There are consequences to be sure; this generation of doubters will not enter the promised land. They had their chance and refused. The gift would be handed on to their children and the generation of Caleb and Joshua, the generation of the minority report.

We all need to be reminded who we are. We too, are cowed by our fears, attempting to hold on to what was rather than follow God into a new future. We seek forgiveness and a renewed passion to follow the Spirit’s leading. 


Prayer:

Loving God, forgive us for our fearfulness and our hard heartedness. In this Lenten season kindle in us a desire to follow where Jesus leads us, to love as Jesus loves. Transform us to see others as Jesus sees them so that we all together might be part of your coming reign in Jesus Christ. Amen.


By: Rev. Bill Poland, Director of New Communities of Faith
 



March 18, 2019

However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

—Romans 4:5

Paul's exposition in Romans 4 reminiscences the many rituals and traditions which human persons have practiced over the ages in order to appease God towards reconciliation and forgiveness. Ranging from the Jewish practices of burning incense to sprinkling the blood of animals on the altar, we note how these and other rituals did not go as far as to heal the broken relationships between God and humanity.

Paul specifically addresses the practice of circumcision in the Jewish thought as a good example of what did not qualify the Jews for credit or righteousness, despite the fact that the Jews held that ritual in high esteem. Although God credited Abraham for going through the rite of circumcision, Paul mentioned that Abraham was however actually justified by God several years prior to the circumcision experience because he believed in God with his whole heart. Accordingly, Abraham was recognized as the father of the believing Gentiles (the uncircumcised) because he believed and was justified prior to the rite of circumcision.

The works which we also practice in the church today (acolytes, ushers, choristers, committee members), although very appropriate, are not sufficient to earn us credit or reconciliation with God or regain His favor. The only requirement needed is our true repentance and confession. Faith in Christ matters most. This faith earns us peace and continued faith journey with Christ. Paul affirms again, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom.5:1). God calls us to true repentance in order to receive justification.


Prayer:

Gracious God, forgive us when we have trusted our past "works", rather than having true "faith" in Christ for our justification. May we all experience your forgiving and healing grace as we truly repent and confess Christ as our only Savior, Amen!


By: Rev. Michael Adedokun, Hampton UMC



March 17, 2019

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my [b]neck.
I sink in deep mire,
Where there is no standing;
I have come into deep waters,
Where the floods overflow me.
I am weary with my crying;

My throat is dry;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God.

Those who hate me without a cause
Are more than the hairs of my head;
They are mighty who would destroy me,
Being my enemies wrongfully;
Though I have stolen nothing,
I still must restore it.

O God, You know my foolishness;
And my sins are not hidden from You.
Let not those who wait for You, O Lord God of hosts,
be ashamed because of me;
Let not those who seek You be confounded because of me,
O God of Israel.

But as for me, my prayer is to You,
O Lord, in the acceptable time;
O God, in the multitude of Your mercy,
Hear me in the truth of Your salvation.
Deliver me out of the mire,
And let me not sink;
Let me be delivered from those who hate me,
And out of the deep waters.
Let not the floodwater overflow me,
Nor let the deep swallow me up;
And let not the pit shut its mouth on me.

Hear me, O Lord, for Your lovingkindness is good;
Turn to me according to the multitude of Your tender mercies.
And do not hide Your face from Your servant,
For I am in trouble;
Hear me speedily.
Draw near to my soul, and redeem it;
Deliver me because of my enemies.

 
— Psalm 69:1-6, 13-18

 

"Into every life, a little rain must fall" goes a saying I've often heard. But what if the rain comes again and again and again. Is life centered in one huge thunderstorm? Must we endure downfall after downfall? Psalm 69 pictures such a catastrophe. The waters mount to our chin; we are sunk in inescapable mire; the flood overwhelms us. Life at times feels overwhelming. The challenges are too much. We wonder if we can survive the tasks and we feel all alone in our struggle.   

An acquaintance of mine had terminal cancer. Yet she kept coming to the work she loved almost every day. Asked how she could manage all this, she replied, "you just keep on keeping on." Living in God's care and with His love sustaining us, THAT IS WHAT WE DO. We live in God's care and we keep on keeping on for we believe that we will emerge from the valley of shadows to the high plains of hope and renewal.

An old hymn says, "I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore; very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more. But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry. From the waters lifted me, now safe am I."  LOVE LIFTED ME. There is a power in the love God gives which can lift us from our floundering and fear to a deep abiding hope and trust. Let God lift you today to a new and better living! And the lifeboat God gives may be in the warm welcoming words of a friend, in the familiar sounds of your spouse or your child's voice or in the familiar tasks that must be done each day as we keep on keeping on. 


Prayer:

Good and gracious God, help us as we flounder int he waters of life. Help us to know that the soft words of a friend, the tasks that require our daily response and the in-dwellng spirit of hope and love you offer will carry us safely to the other shore in living, the shore of renewed energy, or renewed wonder about all that happens i our world, or renewed joy as we find our strength in the human bonds of love. For you are love, in us and around us.   Amen


By: Rev. Jim Seeber, retired
 


March 16, 2019

One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.

— Psalm 27:4


Several of David's prayers and affirmative words indicated the desire to dwell in the house of the Lord. In Psalm 27:4, he made a simple request, "That I may dwell in the Lord, all the days of my life".

A parallel prayer was made by him in Psalm 23:5, "And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever". David realized the indispensability of the grace of God in his life, hence, his penchant for desiring to always "dwell" in the house of the Lord. David's affirmations did not suggest that he was physically in the temple twenty-four hours a day, and three hundred and sixty-five days a year. While he was physically away from God's house, his heart was always following after God's will. His desire to "dwell" in the house of the Lord was full time, and not part-time.

In Psalm 122:1, he indicated that rather than being sad when invited to God's house, he was actually glad. Faced by many obstacles, internal and external attacks, and his struggle with some moral imbalances, David was able to sustain his relationship with God due to his commitment to dwelling in the house of the Lord.

In Psalm 27:5, he mentioned one advantage of always being in the house of God, "For in the day of trouble, he will keep me safe in his dwelling". Consequently, his emotions, wishes, intentions, and goals were all patterned towards being in God's house.

During this reflective season, we recall our struggles, concerns, and issues which often threaten our relationship with God. Perhaps we want to learn from David's experience that desiring to always be in God's presence is the antidote to responding to such threats. May God continually keep us safe as we remain in his dwelling.


Prayer:

Almighty Savior, as we respond to the invitation to always remain in your dwelling, grant that we will receive redemption from every appearance of evil in our lives, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen!


By: Rev. Michael Adedokun, Hampton UMC


March 15, 2019

Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!?

— Psalm 27:14


In the lakes of the Minnesota Boundary Waters there are portages. A portage is the space of land stretching between two lakes. In order to explore more areas by water, portaging is essential. Paddlers pull up on shore, pull the boat out of the water, and walk the boat and gear to the other end of the portage.  

The space between, like the portage, is an important link from one place to the next. Between spaces in life: the space between graduating high school and going to college or work; the space between losing a loved one and life moving forward again; the space between retirement and filling the days.  Any time we are transitioning to something new and different, we are in the portage of our lives, and we carry the weight of this space as we learn and grow.  

Lent is the space between walking with Jesus in His ministry, and His journey to the cross. It was lonely for Jesus, and a journey He had to make on His own. There was no cutting this short, for to do so would have thwarted God’s timing and plan.

As we journey through Lent, we cannot rush our own transformation in this time. God will act on our behalf when the timing is right. Psalm 27:14 reminds us of God’s timing: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (NRSV) Waiting is difficult, and we often seek ways to speed up the critical learning that God desires for us. 

Unfortunately when we try to take a shortcut in our spiritual growth, it only serves us in the short term, and we will likely be sent back to the space in between to continue the learning in this time. As you portage through Lent, allow God’s timing to be your guide.


Prayer:

Let us Pray: Lord of Life, thank you for walking the portages of life with us. Help us carry the burdens that often accompany these spaces between. Guide us as we grow in our walk with You.  Amen.


By: Pastor Jenny Seylar, Lovely Lane UMC


March 14, 2019

"Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the *surpassing value* of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."

— Philippians 3:7-8


May God's view of you in Jesus Christ
hold sway

That after the days are accomplished,
efforts put away,
speeches and preaching set aside,
networking cast to the breeze

May you be still
breathe in the surpassing value
of knowing Christ Jesus
Know.
Yes, know.
And be known.

And in this stillness
May it be deeply,
richly,
boundlessly
well
with your soul,
even so. Amen.


Prayer:

Loving God, giver of all good things, may the surpassing value of my life surrendered anew to you again this day fully uplift, guide, inspire and motivate me beyond selfish things.  May I, this day, be of value to you. May I give your comfort, share your love, listen with a Christ-centered heart.  Inspire me to be your hands, feet, eyes and voice of justice, mercy and grace this day.  Amen. 


By: Rev. Judy Wadding, retired


March 13, 2019

A man in the land of Uz was named Job. That man was honest, a person of absolute integrity; he feared God and avoided evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred pairs of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and a vast number of servants, so that he was greater than all the people of the east. Each of his sons hosted a feast in his own house on his birthday. They invited their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When the days of the feast had been completed, Job would send word and purify his children. Getting up early in the morning, he prepared entirely burned offerings for each one of them, for Job thought, Perhaps my children have sinned and then cursed God in their hearts. Job did this regularly.

One day the divine beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Adversary also came among them. The Lord said to the Adversary, “Where did you come from?”

The Adversary answered the Lord, “From wandering throughout the earth.”

The Lord said to the Adversary, “Have you thought about my servant Job; surely there is no one like him on earth, a man who is honest, who is of absolute integrity, who reveres God and avoids evil?”

The Adversary answered the Lord, “Does Job revere God for nothing? Haven’t you fenced him in—his house and all he has—and blessed the work of his hands so that his possessions extend throughout the earth? But stretch out your hand and strike all he has. He will certainly curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to the Adversary, “Look, all he has is within your power; only don’t stretch out your hand against him.” So the Adversary left the Lord’s presence.

One day Job’s sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house. A messenger came to Job and said: “The oxen were plowing, and the donkeys were grazing nearby when the Sabeans took them and killed the young men with swords. I alone escaped to tell you.”

While this messenger was speaking, another arrived and said: “A raging fire fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and devoured the young men. I alone escaped to tell you.”

While this messenger was speaking, another arrived and said: “Chaldeans set up three companies, raided the camels and took them, killing the young men with swords. I alone escaped to tell you.”

While this messenger was speaking, another arrived and said: “Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, when a strong wind came from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It fell upon the young people, and they died. I alone escaped to tell you.”

Job arose, tore his clothes, shaved his head, fell to the ground, and worshipped. He said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb; naked I will return there. The Lord has given; the Lord has taken; bless the Lord’s name.” In all this, Job didn’t sin or blame God.

—Job 1: 1-22


“In all this Job did not sin, or charge God with wrongdoing”. “In all this” is a lot of stuff, bad stuff, awful, unjust and wrong stuff that really hurt Job. Every aspect of Job’s life was harmed for no good reason. Yet, in all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing. Job had a choice of how he wanted to respond to the harm done to him.

He could have lashed out in many ways. He could have let the pain and the injustice of it all lead him into a deeper darker place where he would harm others. But Job did not do this — he resisted the temptation to meet harm with harm.

The United Methodists are in a period in which we feel we have been harmed by each other. Each side sees injustice and hurt that the other has caused them. And we have a choice in how we will respond to the harm we feel.

We can let it take us to a place where we lash out against each other. Or we can be like Job — and not let harm lead us to sin or charge God with wrongdoing.

Broken people can hurt others, or they can heal and bring healing. We are all in a Lenten season that began with a General Conference that brought a lot of wounds.

May our Lenten practices supply us with time and space for healing by the Holy Spirit. “In His wounds, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) Jesus was wounded at the General Conference as well. Yet he absorbs the hurt and offers us healing and new life.

May the wounds of Christ heal us, and our church through our journey with Christ to the cross, the grave, the skies.


Prayer:

God of Job, God of all brokenhearted people, you know the brokenness of your people called United Methodist. Heal us, we pray. Bind up our wounds, bring salve to our hearts, and a balm to our minds. In the midst of our hurt, keep us from hurting others. Keep us from all sin, that we might heal and be healers. In the name of the Wounded Healer we pray. AMEN


By: Rev. Sarah Rohret, Independence First UMC


March 12, 2019

God didn’t spare the angels when they sinned but cast them into the lowest level of the underworld and committed them to chains of darkness, keeping them there until the judgment. And he didn’t spare the ancient world when he brought a flood on the world of ungodly people, even though he protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, along with seven others. God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to total destruction, reducing them to ashes as a warning to ungodly people. And he rescued righteous Lot, who was made miserable by the unrestrained immorality of unruly people. (While that righteous man lived among them he felt deep distress every day on account of the immoral actions he saw and heard.) These things show that the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from their trials, and how to keep the unrighteous for punishment on the Judgment Day. This is especially true for those who follow after the corrupt cravings of the sinful nature and defy the Lord’s authority.

These reckless, brash people aren’t afraid to insult the glorious ones, yet angels, who are stronger and more powerful, don’t use insults when pronouncing the Lord’s judgment on them. These false teachers are like irrational animals, mere creatures of instinct, born to be captured and destroyed. They slander what they don’t understand and, like animals, they will be destroyed. In this way, they will receive payment for their wrongdoing.

They even enjoy unruly parties in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, taking delight in their seductive pleasures while feasting with you. They are always looking for someone with whom to commit adultery. They are always on the lookout for opportunities to sin. They ensnare people whose faith is weak. They have hearts trained in greed. They are under God’s curse. Leaving the straight path, they have gone off course, following the way of Balaam son of Bosor, who loved the payment of doing wrong. But Balaam was rebuked for his wrongdoing. A donkey, which has no voice, spoke with a human voice and put a stop to the prophet’s madness.

These false teachers are springs without water, mists driven by the wind. The underworld has been reserved for them. With empty, self-important speech, they use sinful cravings and unrestrained immorality to ensnare people who have only just escaped life with those who have wandered from the truth. These false teachers promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of immorality; whatever overpowers you, enslaves you. If people escape the moral filth of this world through the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, then get tangled up in it again and are overcome by it, they are worse off than they were before. It would be better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, having come to know it, to turn back from the holy commandment entrusted to them.

—2 Peter 2:4-21

If we choose to do good and not to do evil, the free exercise of our will can empower us, as we make choices that align us with the God of our faith and belief. In our actions and in our daily meditations, we may feel a certain closeness to God in making decisions, which affirm him and actualize our faith. In prayer, we may begin to feel his presence and how this changes us.  Feeling changed and transformed by faith is the beginning of taking on an aureole. Let shine and show forth the faith, which you hold in your heart by first kindling it there.

Our lectionary reading today from the Second Letter of Peter describes how God intervened in the lives of Noah and of Lot and, therefore, how God may “rescue the godly from trials” and reserve judgment for the unrighteous. In these days of Lent, as you continue to practice worship, prayer, reading of scripture, fasting, and giving, let yourself take on the sense of inner contentment and peace that you can attain in being close to God and receiving his presence into your life.  When you are later surrounded in darkness, difficulty, poor company, and trials, your aureole and your God will show you the way through them.


Prayer:

Gracious God, I give you thanks and praise you today for your presence and divine guidance in my life. Embolden and empower me by your Holy Spirit to live according to your example and to show others the ways that I am transformed and changed by my faith in you. Amen.


By: Pastor Philip Berger, Boxholm Lehigh Otho Pilot Mound UMCs


March 11, 2019

My little children, I’m writing these things to you so that you don’t sin. But if you do sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is God’s way of dealing with our sins, not only ours but the sins of the whole world. This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments. The one who claims, “I know him,” while not keeping his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this person. But the love of God is truly perfected in whoever keeps his word. This is how we know we are in him. The one who claims to remain in him ought to live in the same way as he lived.

—1 John 2:1-6

Facing a full 40 days of Lent can seem like a daunting task. Perhaps it helps to remember on this sixth day that there are only thirty-four more days of Lent remaining.  

As we seek to become more devout in our worship and spiritual practice, the ways that we have failed to live up to the example of Jesus and the ways that we have sinned may come to mind. Yet, these memories and thoughts do not necessarily provide for us the best example of what we would like to become or who we would like to be. And so, we are at times challenged to confront not only the enemy, such as Jesus confronted Satan in the desert, but also the enemy within, who is also a part of what we have done, what we do, and what we will do.  

Some hope for us, who struggle against sin, may come in the thought so articulately expressed in our reading from the Epistle of 1 John today that if we sin, we have an advocate in Jesus Christ. There is great hope in his virtue and his power to withstand the spiritual forces of evil and wickedness and to strengthen and fortify himself against them through the reading of scripture, prayer, fasting, and giving.  

We are also encouraged to remember that in Jesus we are given the means to a more authentic existence, such that if we live according to his example, love one another and God, we can embody truth. We can become truth and be truthful. Just as there is hope in Jesus' virtue, there is hope for us in our own virtue—even today, even after yesterday, that his salvation may become ours.


Prayer:

Blessed Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, I want to be a Christian.  I want to be more loving.  I want to be more holy.  I want to be like Jesus, in my heart.  For if I can be like Jesus in my inmost heart, I can truly be a Christian towards others.  In these days of Lent, help me to become the Christian that I want to be and embody the truth of what I proclaim through my belief in Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection. Amen. 


By: Pastor Philip Berger, Boxholm Lehigh Otho Pilot Mound UMCs


March 10, 2019

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
    lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
    and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
    and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
    and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

— Isaiah 58: 6-7


As we begin another forty-day journey of Lent season commemorating the act of self-denial demonstrated by Jesus, we begin to ponder about what lessons are there for us to learn.

Our Savior fasted for forty days and forty nights prior to beginning his ministry. Perhaps our Lord would not have succeeded in ministry if he had opted to not go through this period of self-denial. Little wonder then, that immediately following the completion of the fasting period, he was tempted on three occasions by the devil (Mt.4:1-11).

It is interesting to realize that even with his Divine nature and attributes, Jesus still submitted to the practice of self-denial, after which he went through some stages of temptation by Lucifer.

Traditionally, most of us feel the urge to imbibe the practice of Jesus by setting this time of the year apart for self-denial. We often do this through the act of fasting – abstaining from food or anything else through which we normally derive pleasure.

However, our text today suggests that this forty-day time apart goes beyond fasting. Self-denial of any kind which is devoid of the acts of compassion, love, and care for others will ultimately become an exercise in futility. Isaiah reminds us that our acts of devotion demonstrated through abstinence from food or anything else should be complemented by working against the chains of injustice in our nation, businesses, communities, and families.

We are also called to the task of paying attention to the needs of the poor, the homeless, the rejected, and the oppressed. It is when we actually respond to the needs of the "least of these" that our fasting or any other form of abstinence becomes acceptable.


Prayer:

Gracious God, we ask for grace to be able to impact the lives of others around us, as we begin this season of self-denial. May our fasting and other forms of abstinence be meaningful and acceptable to you, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

Amen!


By: Rev. Michael Adedokun, Hampton United Methodist Church


March 9, 2019

“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name.”

Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.” When the crowd heard the voice, some thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him.

Then Jesus told them, “The voice was for your benefit, not mine. The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this to indicate how he was going to die.

The crowd responded, “We understood from Scripture that the Messiah would live forever. How can you say the Son of Man will die? Just who is this Son of Man, anyway?”

Jesus replied, “My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.”

After saying these things, Jesus went away and was hidden from them.

— John 12:27-36

When I approach the cross at the midnight of my despair, when I cannot see where it is, nor feel my way to it, I still somehow feel Christ’s assurance that it is there.

Something within tells me it waits, ageless, unchanged and inviting. I come to the cross especially in times of darkness, when I’m lost, doubtful and afraid.

I come because, like Thomas, I need to see, hear and feel tangible proof that Jesus is with me. I need to know that there, beneath His Cross, even in the darkest hour of my night I will be comforted, even though perhaps I shouldn’t be.

And so in the darkness I come to touch the Cross, feel it’s splintery roughness, imagine it as it towers over me. I come to hear again the accusation and the epitaph, “The King of the Jews.” I come to behold the blood that saved me, to ponder how weakness can be strength; defeat, victory and how suffering can somehow be sacred.

O, blessed mystery of darkness that draws me to the Cross. Surely you would defeat me, even destroy me, if it were not for the sacred failing, suffering and dying of the One whom darkness could not overcome. It is He who beckons me, “Come.”


Prayer:

O Lord of Light, sometimes our darkness is so deep, so daunting and lasts so long we almost lose hope of ever seeing light again. Yet we are truly thankful for the blessed mystery held in darkness: for if it were not for the darkness we would not have sought after your light.

Amen



March 8, 2019

“So God sent back the same man his people had previously rejected when they demanded, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us?’ Through the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush, God sent Moses to be their ruler and savior. And by means of many wonders and miraculous signs, he led them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness for forty years.

“Moses himself told the people of Israel, ‘God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your own people.’ Moses was with our ancestors, the assembly of God’s people in the wilderness, when the angel spoke to him at Mount Sinai. And there Moses received life-giving words to pass on to us.

“But our ancestors refused to listen to Moses. They rejected him and wanted to return to Egypt. They told Aaron, ‘Make us some gods who can lead us, for we don’t know what has become of this Moses, who brought us out of Egypt.’ So they made an idol shaped like a calf, and they sacrificed to it and celebrated over this thing they had made. Then God turned away from them and abandoned them to serve the stars of heaven as their gods! In the book of the prophets it is written,
 

‘Was it to me you were bringing sacrifices and offerings
    during those forty years in the wilderness, Israel?

— Acts 7:35-42

Earlier in Acts 7 St. Stephen speaks of holy ground. Such an engaging, arresting image.

What is holy ground for us? The ground on which our beloved stand? The sanctuary of our fondest dreams? The place of Grace for us.

Holy, verdant ground, reminds one of a good Iowa farm doesn’t it. For Moses, it was a place of Divine Encounter, where he was sent from holy ground to holy purpose with the promise of holy Presence, “I will be with you.”

The God of new creation would make all ground sacred and all of us holy (United Methodists remember Father Wesley’s purpose of sanctifying grace): Holy strangers, Holy children waiting at the southern border, Residents of Anamosa and Mitchellville prisons longing to be free, Holy ground turned to scorched earth in Syria, Holy but fearful people waiting for November 2020.

We confess to being part of a Lenten world. During this holy season, what is just one thing you and I could do to witness, work and watch for God’s making and remaking holy ground and the holy hope of new creation?


By: Pastor H.D. Mitchell


March 7, 2019

Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!”

— Exodus 5:22-23 (NLT)


Moses' early attempts at being the super-duper deliverer for God, rescuing the slaves from Pharaoh's brick factory, are a crushing failure. Pharaoh is a sly and cunning bully, and he turns the slaves against their rescuer immediately – by changing the rules so the slaves have to make the same brick quota, but without the materials (straw) provided. Now they have to collect their own straw to make the same number of bricks!

The slavery situation has gone from incredibly crushing to unbelievably unbearable. And the temptation is to blame Moses (who is trying to help)rather than Pharaoh (who is causing the hurt). And Moses takes it to the Lord in prayer, which is what we are invited to do as well.

When things are getting worse before they get better, and the enemies strike back, we follow the wisdom of our grandmothers and grandfathers in faith – pray about it.

Tell God all about what's going on. And be honest – maybe nothing's going right now. God has the love, forgiveness, power, strength, and glory, to see us through, and God is with us in the midst of our defeats.

Prayer:
Dear Lord,

Thank you for your love. Remind us to pile our burdens at the foot of Your Cross, especially the sticky ones we want to keep to ourselves. Give us the courage to always follow Your holy guidance.

AMEN.


By: Rev. Dr. Katharine Yarnell, Executive Director Iowa United Methodist Foundation


March 6, 2019 

Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
 
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” So begins the Prayer of St. Francis. And for us, in this Lenten journey of reflections and devotions, may our prayer be to become instruments of God’s peace.
 
We’ve learned that the 40-day season of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday and leading up to Easter Sunday, is a time set aside for prayer, self-reflection, repentance, and exchanging the focus-on-self to a focus on others.
 
Tradition tells us that Lent is a reminder of the forty days of Jesus’ desert fasting before the beginning of his public ministry. That time was marked and marred by the temptations of Satan. Far outside the spaces of community, Jesus was urged to put himself first (changing the stones into bread and satisfy his hunger), test God (by hurling himself off the pinnacle of the Temple, causing God to dispatch the saving angels), and make things all about himself (by turning his back on his relationship with God at the devil’s urging). 
 
The suggested scriptures for Ash Wednesday are clear, direct, almost a plea to the Creator, followed by a Creation “so that.”  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10) “so that no fault may be found with our ministry” (2 Corinthians 6:3) because “no obstacle [was put] in anyone’s way” (2 Corinthians 6:3).
 
Back to the Prayer of St. Francis…”Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”  
 
I remember that simple request almost daily. Harry Huffnagle used the Prayer as the lyric for one of his compositions…one of the anthems sung by the Amherst Summer Music Center chorus in 1964. When I look across Panther Pond, from our little house in Maine, to where ASMC used to be, “Lord, Make Me an Instrument” is the first thing that pops into my head and the music of the tenor part almost begins to sing itself.
 
Where we have ignored others, or even not noticed them, where we’ve judged siblings of the family of God as less acceptable because of who they are, where we’ve silently let wrong go on too long, where we’ve wallowed in our own self-selected despair, then, this Lent, may our prayer for forgiveness, reconciliation, and renewal be, 
 
Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life
Amen.


By: Dr. Arthur McClanahan is the Director of Communications for the Iowa Annual Conference.